In 1982, John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian served as a launching pad for the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, putting him firmly onto the path of mega-stardom, with the film proving to be a huge success, even spawning a sequel. However, it was not the most faithful adaption of Robert E Howard’s much beloved protagonist, so in the current climate of remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, it was only a matter of time before someone took another swing at bringing Conan to life.
The film follows the life of Conan from his youth, as he attempts to become a warrior. However, everything changes when a bandit (Khalar Zym) comes to town in search of the final missing piece of an ancient mask that could help him enslave the entire region, after it had been hidden years before to prevent such an occurrence. Conan is forced to watch as his whole village is destroyed and his father is killed. Swearing revenge he dedicates his life to tracking down the man responsible and exacting revenge.
From his first moments onscreen, it becomes clear that Momoa was always going to be an excellent choice to play Conan. Although his take on the character is very different to Schwarzenegger’s, he instantly looks the part of the barbarian, hulking over other characters, lean and almost animalistic in his movements. He also manages to deliver some knowingly ridiculous dialogue with an absolutely deadpan expression, much in the way Schwarzenegger famously did throughout much of his career. He fits the role very well, and he brings a sense of humanity and warmth to the character. It doesn’t hurt that he also oozes charisma, and is very likeable even when chopping off the heads of his opponents. His performance is assured and confident, and as such it’s easy to see why Momoa is being tipped for big things
Momoa also benefits from an excellent supporting cast, with Lang almost unrecognisable as the evil Khalar Zym, and Nichols more than adequately portraying the feisty damsel in distress. McGowan (as Zym’s witch daughter Marique) and Perlman (as Conan’s father Corin, complete with massive beard) also shine, even though their roles are fairly one dimensional. However, an extra special mention has to go to Howard, who plays young Conan, and is so incredibly convincing in his look, walk, and attitude, that his resemblance to Momoa is uncanny. It’s a real testament to his acting skills that his part stood out so much, despite being on screen for such a short time.
Conan is most likely not going to win any awards. It’s not the most original plot, and even visually, it feels at times as though it borrows heavily from The Lord of The Rings, Highlander and a whole plethora of other fantasy films. The revenge story is also a well trodden road, but it’s well executed here, even if it does feel overly familiar. It’s also a much more violent affair than expected, and it really pulls few punches on how graphically it portrays the gore elements of its visual style, but this isn’t especially to the film’s detriment, and does make sense, after all it is a revenge story with a barbarian as its protagonist.
Regardless, it’s a very fun movie – fast paced, visually stimulating and highly entertaining – and while it’s certainly more high concept than high brow, it’s an enjoyable popcorn movie and at no stage pretends to be any thing other than that. It may also perhaps see lightning strike twice for Conan proving the launching pad for a new action star in the form of Jason Momoa, a name that may be worth remembering, because there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing it a lot in the near future.
EXTRAS ★★★ An audio commentary with director Nispel; an audio commentary with stars Momoa and McGowan; the featurette The Conan Legacy (18:01); the featurette Robert E Howard: The Man Who Would be Conan (11:24); the featurette Bttle Royal: Engineerig the Action (9:55); the featurette Staging the Fights (5:47); the theatrical trailer.